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- Esther - 6/43 -


nothing of the kind. He patted Jack's wet cheeks and laughed at the hole in her handkerchief; and he then seated himself on the bed, and asked me very gently what was the matter with us all. Dot was spokesman: he stated the facts of the case rather lugubriously and in a slightly injured voice.

"Esther is crying because she is selfish, and I am afraid I am selfish too."

"Most likely," returned Allan, dryly; "it is a human failing. What is the case in point, Frankie?"

Allan was the only one of us who ever called Dot by his proper name.

"I should not mind growing up to be a man," replied Dot, fencing a little, "if I were big and strong like you," taking hold of the huge sinewy hand. "I could work then for mother and the girls; but now you will be always obliged to take care of me, and so--and so--" and here Dot's lips quivered a little, "I would rather go with dear father, if Esther would not cry about it so."

"No, no, you must stay with us, Sonny," returned Allan, cheerily. "Esther and I are not going to give you up so easily. Why, look here, Frankie; I will tell you a secret. One of these days I mean to have a nice little house of my own, and Esther and you shall come and live with me, and I will go among my patients all the morning, and in the evening I shall come home very lazy and tired, and Esther shall fetch me my slippers and light the lamp, and I shall get my books, and you will have your drawing, and Esther will mend our clothes, and we shall be as cozy as possible."

"Yes, yes," exclaimed Dot, clapping his hands. The snug picture had fascinated his childish fancy; Allan's fireside had obscured the lights of paradise. From this time this imaginary home of Allan's became his favorite castle in the air. When we were together he would often talk of it as though it were reality. We had planted the garden and furnished the parlor a dozen times over before the year was out; and so strong is a settled imagination that I am almost sure Dot believed that somewhere there existed the little white cottage with the porch covered with honeysuckle, and the low bay-window with the great pots of flowering plants, beside which Dot's couch was to stand.

I don't think Jack enjoyed these talks so much as Dot and I did, as we made no room for her in our castle-building.

"You must not live with us, Jack," Dot would say, very gravely; "you are only a girl, and we don't want girls"--what was I, I wonder?-- "but you shall come and see us once a week, and Esther will give you brown bread and honey out of our beehives; for we had arranged there must be a row of beehives under a southern wall where peaches were to grow; and as for white lilies, we were to have dozens of them. Dear, dear, how harmless all these fancies were, and yet they kept us cheerful and warded off many an hour of depression from pain when Dot's back was bad. I remember one more thing that Allan said that night, when we were all better and more cheerful, for it was rather a grave speech for a young man; but then Allan had these fits of gravity.

"Never mind thinking if you will grow up to be a man, Dot. Wishing won't help us to die an hour sooner, and the longest life must have an end some day. What we have to do is to take up our life, and do the best we can with it while it lasts, and to be kind and patient, and help one another. Most likely Esther and I will have to work hard enough all our lives--we shall work, and you may have to suffer; but we cannot do without you any more than you can do without us. There, Frankie!"

CHAPTER IV.

UNCLE GEOFFREY.

The day after the funeral Uncle Geoffrey held a family council, at which we were all present, except mother and Dot; he preferred talking to her alone afterward.

Oh, what changes! what incredible changes! We must leave Combe Manor at once. With the exception of a few hundred pounds that had been mother's portion, the only dowry that her good old father, a naval captain, had been able to give her, we were literally penniless. The boys were not able to help us much. Allan was only a house-surgeon in one of the London hospitals; and Fred, who called himself an artist, had never earned a penny. He was a fair copyist, and talked the ordinary art jargon, and went about all day in his brown velveteen coat, and wore his hair rather long; but we never saw much result from his Roman studies; latterly he had somewhat neglected his painting, and had taken to violin playing and musical composition. Uncle Geoffrey used to shake his head and say he was "Jack of all trades and master of none," which was not far from the mark. There was a great deal of talk between the three, before anything was settled.

Fred was terribly aggravating to Uncle Geoffrey, I could see; but then he was so miserable, poor fellow; he would not look at things in their proper light, and he had a way with him as though he thought Uncle Geoffrey was putting upon him. The discussion grew very warm at last, for Allan sided with Uncle Geoffrey, and then Fred said every one was against him. It struck me Uncle Geoffrey pooh-poohed Fred's whim of being an artist; he wanted him to go into an office; there was a vacant berth he could secure by speaking to an old friend of his, who was in a China tea-house, a most respectable money-making firm, and Fred would have a salary at once, with good prospects of rising; but Fred passionately scouted the notion. He would rather enlist; he would drown, or hang himself sooner. There were no end of naughty things he said; only Carrie cried and begged him not to be so wicked, and that checked him.

Uncle Geoffrey lost his patience at last, and very nearly told him he was an idiot, to his face; but Fred looked so handsome and miserable, that he relented; and at last it was arranged that Fred was to take a hundred pounds of mother's money--she would have given him the whole if she could, poor dear--and take cheap rooms in London, and try how he could get on by teaching drawing and taking copying orders.

"Remember, Fred," continued Uncle Geoffrey, rather sternly, "you are taking a sixth part of your mother's entire income; all that she has for herself and these girls; if you squander it rashly, you will be robbing the widow and the fatherless. You have scouted my well-meant advice, and Allan's"--he went on--"and are marking out your own path in life very foolishly, as we think; remember, you have only yourself to blame, if you make that life a failure. Artists are of the same stuff as other men, and ought to be sober, steady, and persevering; without patience and effort you cannot succeed."

"When my picture is accepted by the hanging committee, you and Allan will repent your sneers," answered Fred, bitterly.

"We do not sneer, my boy," returned Uncle Geoffrey, more mildly--for he remembered Fred's father had only been dead a week--"we are only doubtful of the wisdom of your choice; but there, work hard at your daubs, and keep out of debt and bad company, and you may yet triumph over your cranky old uncle." And so the matter was amicably settled.

Allan's arrangements were far more simple. He was to leave the hospital in another year, and become Uncle Geoffrey's assistant, with a view to partnership. It was not quite Allan's taste, a practice in a sleepy country town; but, as he remarked rather curtly, "beggars must not be choosers," and he would as soon work under Uncle Geoffrey as any other man. I think Allan was rather ambitious in his secret views. He wanted to remain longer at the hospital and get into a London practice; he would have liked to have been higher up the tree than Uncle Geoffrey, who was quite content with his quiet position at Milnthorpe. But the most astonishing part of the domestic programme was, that we were all going to live with Uncle Geoffrey. I could scarcely believe my ears when I heard it, and Carrie was just as surprised. Could any of us credit such unselfish generosity? He had not prepared us for it in the least.

"Now, girls, you must just pack up your things, you, and the mother, and Dot; of course we must take Dot, and you must manage to shake yourselves down in the old house at Milnthorpe"--that is how he put it; "it is not so big as Combe Manor, and I daresay we shall be rather a tight fit when Allan comes; but the more the merrier, eh, Jack?"

"Oh, Uncle Geoff, do you mean it?" gasped Jack, growing scarlet; but Carrie and I could not speak for surprise.

"Mean it! Of course. What is the good of being a bachelor uncle, if one is not to be tyrannized over by an army of nephews and nieces? Do you think the plan will answer, Esther?" he said, rather more seriously.

"If you and Deborah do not mind it, Uncle Geoffrey, I am sure it ought to answer; but we shall crowd you, and put you and Deborah to sad inconvenience, I am afraid;" for I was half afraid of Deborah, who had lived with Uncle Geoffrey for five-and-twenty years, and was used to her own ways, and not over fond of young people.

"I shall not ask Deb's opinion," he answered, rather roguishly; "we must smooth her down afterward, eh, girls? Seriously, Allan, I think it is the best plan under the circumstances. I am not fond of being alone," and here Uncle Geoffrey gave a quick sigh. Poor Uncle Geoff! he had never meant to be an old bachelor, only She died while he was furnishing the old house at Milnthorpe, and he never could fix his mind on any one else.

"I like young folks about me," he continued, cheerfully. "When I get old and rheumatic, I can keep Dot company, and Jack can wait on us both. Of course I am not a rich man, children, and we must all help to keep the kettle boiling; but the house is my own, and you can all shelter in it if you like; it will save house-rent and taxes, at any rate for the present."

"Carrie and I will work," I replied, eagerly; for, though Uncle Geoffrey was not a poor man, he was very far from being rich, and he could not possibly afford to keep us all. A third of his income went to poor Aunt Prue, who had married foolishly, and was now a widow with a large family.

Aunt Prue would have been penniless, only father and Uncle Geoff agreed to allow her a fixed maintenance. As Uncle Geoff explained to us afterward, she would now lose half her income.

"There are eight children, and two or three of them are very delicate, and take after their father. I have been thinking about it


Esther - 6/43

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